When Technical Support Fails You – UPDATE and Answers!

As promised and update on what has happened so far. A correction needs to be made. the P800 is a PCIe 1.0 card so the bandwidth is cut in half from 4GB/sec to 2GB/sec.

My CDW rep did get me in contact with an HP technical rep who actually knew something about the hardware in question and its capabilities. It was one of those good news, bad news situations. We will start with the bad news. The performance isn’t off. My worst fears were confirmed.

The Hard Disks

The HP Guy (changing the names to protect the innocent) told me their rule of thumb for the performance of the 2.5” 73GB 15K drives is 10MB/Sec. I know what you are thinking, NO WAY! But, I’m not surprised at all. What I was told is the drives ship with the on board write cache disabled. They do this for data integrity reasons. Since the cache on the drive isn’t battery backed if there was any kind of failure the potential for data loss is there. There are three measurements of hard disk throughput, disk to cache, cache to system and disk to system. Disk to cache is how fast data can be transferred from the internal data cache to the disk usually sequentially. On our 15k drive this should be on average 80MB/sec. Disk to system, also referred to burst speed, is almost always as fast as our connection type. Since we are using SAS that will be close to 250MB/sec. Disk to system is no caching at all. Without the cache several IO reordering schemes aren’t used, there is no buffer between you and the system, so you are effectively limited by the Areal Density and the rotational speed of the disk. This gets us down to 10 to 15 megabytes a second. Write caching has a huge impact on performance. I hear you saying the controller has a battery backed cache on it, and you would be right.

The Disk Controller

The P800 controller was the top of the line that HP had for quite a while. It is showing its age now though. The most cache you can get at the moment is 512MB. It is battery backed so if there is a sudden loss of power the data in cache will stay there for as long as the battery holds out. When the system comes back on the controller will attempt a flush to disk. The problem with this scheme is two fold. The cache is effectively shared across all your drives since I have 50 drives total attached to the system that is around 10.5 megabytes per drive. Comparable drives ship with 16 to 32 megabytes of cache on them normally. The second problem is the controller can’t offload the IO sorting algorithms to the disk drive effectively limiting it’s throughput. It does support native command queuing and elevator sorting but applied at the controller level just isn’t as fast as at the disk level.If I had configured this array as a RAID 6 stripe the loss of performance from that would have masked the other bottlenecks in the controller. Since I’ve got this in a RAID 10 the bottleneck is hit much sooner with fewer drives. On the P800 this limit appears to be between 16 and 32 disks. I won’t know until I do some additional testing.

Its All My Fault

If you have been following my blog or coming to the CACTUSS meetings you know I tell you to test before you go into production. With the lack of documentation I went with a set of assumptions that weren’t valid in this situation. At that point I should have stopped and done the testing my self. In a perfect world I would have setup the system in a test lab run a series of controlled IO workloads and come up with the optimal configuration. I didn’t do as much testing as normal and now I’m paying the price for that. I will have to bring a system out of production as I run benchmarks to find the performance bottlenecks.

The Good News

I have two P800’s in the system and will try moving one of the MSA70’s to the other controller. This will also allow me to test overall system performance across multiple PCIe busses. I have another system that is an exact duplicate of this one and originally had the storage configured in this way but ran into some odd issues with performance as well.

HP has a faster external only controller out right now the P411. This controller supports the new SASII 6G protocols, has faster cache memory and is PCIe 2.0 complainant. I am told it also has a faster IO processor as well. We will be testing these newer controllers out soon. Also, there is a replacement for the P800 coming out next year as well. Since we are only using external chassis with this card the P411 may be a better fit.

We are also exploring a Fusion-io option for our tempdb space. We have an odd workload and tempdb accounts for half of our write operations on disk. Speeding up this aspect of the system and moving tempdb completely away from the data we should see a marked improvement over all.

Lessons Learned or Relearned

Faced with the lack of documentation, don’t make assumptions based on past experiences. Test your setup thoroughly. If you aren’t getting the information you need, try different avenues early. Don’t assume your hardware vendor has all the information. In my case, HP doesn’t tell you that the disks come with the write cache disabled. They also don’t give you the full performance specifications for their disk controllers. Not even my HP Guy had that information. We talked about how there was much more detailed information on the EVA SAN than there was on the P800.

Now What?

Again, I can’t tell you how awesome CDW was in this case. My rep, Dustin Wood, went above and beyond to get me as much help as he could, and in the end was a great help. It saddens me I couldn’t get this level of support directly from HP technical support. You can rest assured I will be giving HP feedback to that effect. By not giving the customer and even their own people all the information sets everyone up for failure.

I’m not done yet. There is a lot of work ahead of me, but at least I have some answers.You can bet I’ll be over at booth #414 next week at PASS asking HP some hard questions!

Posted on June 15, 2010, in HP, IO, Rant, Storage Systems, Testing, Troubleshooting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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